Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear released a statement Monday saying that the Kentucky Labor Cabinet has refused to secure required bonds for coal companies, leaving nearly 1,000 miners at risk of not being paid in the event of a bankruptcy.
Several of the coal companies without required bonds, according to a corresponding report with the statement, are located in Pike County.
According to the statement, Beshear’s office found that as many as 30 mining companies operating in Kentucky should have performance bonds on file with the labor cabinet. The bonds, the statement said, are required by law for any mining company permitted to work in Kentucky but that has not been in operation for five consecutive years. Those bonds, the statement said, would protect miners in the event their employer went bankrupt and would provide them protection for up to four weeks of back pay.
According to the statement, the labor cabinet has “failed to secure a single bond for any mining company operating in the state.”
According to the report, several coal operators in Pike County are operating without the required bonds. They include, McCoy Elkhorn Coal, which has 107 employees; New Age Mining, which has 15 employees; Woodman Three Mine, which has 11 employees; and two operators which are listed as having no employees, Beech Tree Mining and Prosper Energy. Of those, Woodman Three Mine is listed as being in “bad” standing with the state Secretary of State’s office.
According to the report, there are 932 miners in the state at risk as a result of the lack of bond coverage.
According to the statement, Beshear began investigating after media reports that the cabinet failed to require Blackjewel Mining to hold a performance bond to protect employee wages. Blackjewel filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in July and its employees’ paychecks bounced, leaving miners unpaid. Several miners have been protesting against Blackjewel in Cumberland for more than a month and continue to stand on railroad tracks, refusing to let a train loaded with coal the unpaid miners produced leave a nearby mine.
According to the statement, Beshear’s office compiled information from the state Energy and Environment Cabinet website and the Secretary of State’s website and found through an open records request that the performance bonds had not been issued. In the statement, Beshear said the labor secretary’s public statements that there is no mechanism available to determine which companies must hold performance bonds is untrue.
“In response to Blackjewel’s closing, the Labor Cabinet claimed ‘there is no mechanism in law for them to figure out when a new company has opened in the state that is supposed to post a bond,’ but my office was able to determine this with publicly available information within a few days,” Beshear said in the statement. “The Labor Cabinet has an absolute duty to enforce the law and has utterly failed to do so. They must begin enforcing these bonds to assure no one ever goes through what the Blackjewel miners are going through.”
The statement also said the labor cabinet not only failed to require the coal companies to be bonded, it also lobbied to have the state law requiring the bonds repealed by the state legislature.